[The very revised opening to a story I first wrote long ago.]
Not wanting to break up the nomikai, Yamamoto had stayed till the party’s end. As such, he arrived at Umeda station with only four minutes to spare before the last train of the night would set off.
None of his colleagues had known that Yamamoto, sitting tall at the long table at the izakaya in his blue-black Armani suit, wasn’t feeling well. This wasn't surprising since Yamamoto wasn't one to share much of anything personal about himself. His colleagues certainly weren’t aware that at the best of times going for after-work drinks at the pub wasn’t exactly the thirty-one year-old’s favourite hobby. That he only ever had a single glass of beer at these all too common outings was of course joked about, but Yamamoto was such a good sport, laughing along, no one realized the young money manager’s would rather have been at home.
The guys from the office liked talking about sports, baseball, soccer, so Yamamoto, who sometimes worried he came across as too work-oriented, would talk about his fitness routine, weight training and swimming 1500 metres every weekday before work. Yamamoto liked describing the specifics of his exercise regimen. It was easy conversation that wasn’t gossip, it wasn’t overly personal, and his colleagues usually seemed interested, would often ask him questions - as if discussion were an access point to discipline. Also, far better to answer probing questions about fitness than to deal with inane ones about appearance, specifically about his hair. His co-workers, old and young alike, often made sarcastic comments about Yamamoto’s full head of hair, and there was always an element of truth in their envy-tinged teasing. A favourite wisecrack often involved asking about the quantity of seaweed he’d eaten as a child, that was what made his dark hair so thick and beautiful, wasn’t it? No, but really, what was his secret? They wanted to know. It was genetic, wasn’t it? Yamamoto had to admit it probably was.
Yamamoto didn’t share with his co-workers his love of reading, in particular long 19th century English novels, in Japanese, of course. There were plenty of good translations, especially for Dickens. His favourite, though, was Trollope. Trollope and a cup of English tea in his armchair by the window of his carpeted Western style living room – that was the young salaryman’s idea of a perfect night. He wasn’t ashamed of his reading, or even his far-off English fantasies, but he knew his colleagues wouldn’t understand. They’d just think him strange choosing not to join them more often. On this night, though, a rather wet and muggy Thursday, he had to be out. He had to go along with his department at once a month. And as per always, he did so with good posture and social grace, a new silk handkerchief in his suit, trying tremendously hard to show himself to be having a good time, anything not to burden the group, especially with something as embarrassing as a little stomach discomfort in a downtown Osaka izakaya without a drunken excuse. It wasn’t easy, however, to hide the wince-inducing churns his stomach kept going through. Hard to laugh in that kind of situation, or not feel a little isolated from everyone else. His head stuck repeating its concern over the cramping. And now there were bouts of nausea as well. Was it something he had eaten? The oysters?
Rushing off the long escalator that led up to the station entrance he shook out his long navy blue umbrella with three quick, hard shakes, before wrapping it tight and buttoning it up. With equal deftness, he swiped his train pass through the card reader and raced down to track four where below a ceiling high above the train waited patiently. There were still three and a half minutes, but Yamamoto hurried hoping to find a seat, afraid he might otherwise faint out there on the platform in his best suit for all the train passengers to see.
Up ahead an older man walked quickly, clearly on the same seat-finding mission. A thin-waisted, small man, he wore a chocolate brown corduroy jacket over a beige shirt tucked into brown pants. His old, grey sneakers had big looped black laces that flopped with each step he took. Instead of a briefcase, the old man had a plastic shopping bag hanging from his wrist. This ojii-san walked at a good clip but Yamamoto knew it would never be much of a competition. He passed the old man easily, accidentally bumping him as he did. In fact, he bumped the ojii-san rather hard, and would have apologized had he not been so desperate to sit.
For a brief moment Yamamoto closed his eyes in thanks for finding a seat, the last one, on the very last car of the train. It was a narrow space in the middle of one of the velvety-padded, moss-coloured benches that ran from one set of car doors to the next. He squeezed his way down between a high school girl in her tartan uniform and a heavy middle-aged man wearing a forest green suit that looked about two decades out of style. The man, in glasses with gold frames so big they covered half his cheeks, reeked of hard alcohol. His button-down shirt had come partly untucked.
The doors hadn’t yet closed when Yamamoto was hit by another round of nausea that got him hunching over his knees. People continued streaming onto the train, but Yamamoto didn’t notice. He had hung his head in his hands to close out the world, anything to block out the smell, the rank, sour smell coming out the pores of the drunken fat man beside him, a stench too similar to vomit, or his father, for Yamamoto to ignore. He took a breath to calm himself. This drunk was harmless, Yamamoto decided. He didn’t have to hide from this man when he got drunk. He didn’t have to live with him. He didn’t have to live with anyone anymore. And Tokyo was ten years and 550 kilometres away.